5 Tips to Better Authentic Communication
When I work with organizations or individuals communication often comes up as the number one struggle. There’s a good amount of “he doesn’t get it, she doesn’t understand, and they are clueless.” One question I immediately ask people is, “If you have people or a person who isn’t understanding you… who’s responsibility is it to find communication improvements?”. The first step to better communication is owning your own authentic communication. That means taking a look in the mirror, accepting responsibility and beginning to authentically communicate with oneself. If you can’t communicate with yourself, you won’t be able to communicate with others.
One could conclude that there is nothing more important than acquiring strong skills in communication. I think everyone agrees that to enjoy relationships, have a successful business career, or grow in self-value it takes a strong communication skill set and a willingness to keep growing that skillset. Educating and practicing strong authentic communication helps position any person for life’s bests.
Here are 5 Tips on communication that can empower you.
#1. Kill the need to always be right!
I remember my former mentor, David Towner, asking me over and over again, “Eric, would you rather be right or rather be happy?” If asked this question, virtually everyone on earth says they would prefer to be happy, but inevitably the conversation soon retreats to right vs. wrong. Many of us try to turn our personal, corporate or business relationships into some type of presidential debate that feels like liberal vs conservative. If you stop and really think about it, it’s really insane isn’t it? And, we all know what the definition of insanity is, “doing the same thing over and over again expecting something different to happen.” That said, for many of us we don’t even exist in the insanity of this. We choose to operate in the utter stupidity of it. The definition of stupidity is “doing the same thing over and over, know what is going to happen and choosing to do it anyway.” The very fact that we’d mindlessly choose to win an argument at the cost of damaging our relationships points to something terribly wrong. Many people have replaced conversation with contempt because of the constant focus and pressure to be right, heard, or on a “side”. There are ways to disagree productively and not have to make people wrong.
The entire concept of right/wrong positions people for separation. It’s linear and exclusive verse circular and inclusive. It’s closed off instead of opened up. It’s either/or instead of AND. The need to win assures that no one is actively listening. If I need to be right, and we have differing points of view, that obviously makes you wrong. Doesn’t exactly sound like the stuff of friendships, collaboration, or let alone romantic relations. This addiction to be right kidnaps our lives and impedes our overall happiness and connectivity. How can anyone be empathic and compassionate when they have to be right?
# 2. The 2 Cent Rule
For most of us when we find ourselves quarrelsome, our instinct is to win and to expose a part of what the other person is saying as garbage so that we can disprove them. In doing this the now opponent will more than likely reciprocate the argumentative energy and both parties are left feeling unheard and frustrated. Here’s a thought, rather than taking a shot at scoring that knockout punch work to resist the urge to be right. Don’t look for what you disagree with as bullshit to dispute. Instead find a small, if not tiny percentage, let’s say 2 cents of a dollar’s worth, of what the other person is saying that you can agree with and validate. Usually we can find some part of what the other is saying that me might agree with. Find their 2 cents and grab onto it.
You can immediately apply the 2 cent Rule in your communications with others-whether it be a coworker, significant other, employee, customer, friend or relative. Focus and center yourself to search for a small piece of what they are saying that you can attest to being agreeable. Once the other person feels heard affirmed or validated, he/she is repositioned to take in what you have to say. As always with communication, timing is essential here. Validate something, pause, and let the peacemaking spirit fill the space that would otherwise be occupied by the noisy back and forth of arguing. That shift of energy now becomes fertile ground for a meaningful transition and constructive exchange. If you rush to reassert your own position, your affirmation looks inauthentic.
It’s all about what you are looking for. If you are looking for where you disagree you will find it. If you look for where you are agreeable and in alignment, you will find that. A position of alignment is a much higher frequency place to operate and communicate from, with a much higher vibration. IT FEELS BETTER.
#3. Clear Meaning
One of my favorite communication quotes is from Alan Greenspan. It’s hilarious and so true at the same time. “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”.When we use certain words and expressions we assume they mean the same thing to all of us. They don’t, and this contributes to numerous misunderstandings and severally fractured communication. The absence of shared meaning can be ruinous.
I work with a ton of HR departments on communication to their employees. A common and simple example of this is a dress code policy. One policy I ran into explained to the employees that they needed to dress professionally and in business casual attire. Now, to most of us we immediately get a mental image of what that is, but depending on our age, upbringing, income level, past experience, geographical location, etc. we could all come up with totally different version of those statements, and in doing so, all be disjointed at the same time. Taking time to clarify what you mean, or what someone else actually means, is paramount in authentic communication. It also shows the other person that you value the conversation enough to ask questions and understand where they are coming from. To pause and ask what the other person meant by the words they’ve just spoken is remarkably respectful. We need to check in and confirm that we are on the same page. What someone thinks I’ve said is ultimately more important than what I was intending because it can disrupt the entire purpose of the exchange. And so, we must be thoughtful and selective in our choice of words, increasing the likelihood that we are fully understood.
- What are you hearing when I say/said _______?
- Let me repeat what I am hearing you say.
- What exactly do you mean by ______?
- What end result are you looking for from _____?
#4. Aim for Dynamic Dialogue
So, what exactly do I mean by this word dialogue? I would define it as a shared inquiry, where the individual temporarily suspends their assumptions and beliefs to further the process of shared meaning. A shared inquiry has no opposing sides, but instead is a coming together, which demands listening. The root of dialogue is dia-logos (through words), which implies a flow of meaning. This isn’t exactly how we are conditioned to communicate. Most people are taught to communicate in a linear, finite fashion that ends in a right/wrong position. The irony is that the only authentic winning comes from understanding, listening, and validating another’s point of view, not from destroying it, even if we’re not in agreement. To accommodate this shift in communication, we must learn to still the reactive pull of our thoughts, kill our compulsion to be right, and learn the art of listening. I love the ancient proverb that states, “no one is as deaf as the man who will not listen.”
- Ask yourself am I trying to listen or prove a point?
- Challenge yourself to feedback statements the other individual is giving you. One this forces you to focus on listening and two it helps gain clarity.
# 5. Become a Listening Artist
Our thoughts get in the way of our ability to listen. More importantly our old stories get in the way. Old, habitual thoughts, called to order from the archives of every moment we’ve experienced, position us toward re-playing the past so that we are not truly present and therefore, not listening. Unless the individual with whom we are communicating is expressing something that aligns with our own beliefs, we tend to reject or deflect anything that seems to be in opposition.
To listen authentically and attentively, we need to note any disturbances created from our thoughts, feelings, and reactions, leading us to suspend them for a time. We can see the reaction without having to become the reaction. We can temporarily avoid taking a position. If we don’t, we can’t be present to listen.
Dialogue and listening are arts, instead of competitive sports in my opinion. No one should be trying to be right; instead, we seek to understand and appreciate, which, in turn, ordinarily reciprocates with our being understood and validated. When we inquire together and suspend our pre-existing beliefs, we gain deeper insight into the other’s thoughts and feelings. An interaction such as this only elevates all the individuals involved into a collective vibration of growth. It feels good!
- Ask yourself, “what if there is more to be discovered here?”
- Keep your comments personal to how you feel or think.
- Leave out ‘to be’ verbs if possible
- 6 tips for Active Listening
It’s time for each of us to reevaluate what effect communication really is and open ourselves up to an infinite version of connecting, communicating, collaborating and contributing.